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By Debra Moseley-Lord
When I was asked to design art for a 1300-foot wall along a section of the Arkansas River Trail that was to be part of the Medical Mile project, I knew my years of experience producing public art in Arkansas would serve me well. But especially, my job as Art Director for a special event production company had given me the necessary skills of interpreting clients' ideas and putting those ideas into a visually exciting display. I'd built an extensive knowledge of construction principles, materials, and techniques. Little did I realize at the time, that literally all of my skills would unfold into this unique project.
It goes without saying that public art pieces have to withstand the worst physical forces, and I immediately chose to use sheet metals, mosaic tiles, and phenolic resin panels to capture the designs. Simple and few, but visually compelling: this always works for my aesthetic senses, and all things are possible, I believe, as long as you don't venture away from one guiding principle and that is: good, strong, and cohesive design.
This was to be my biggest challenge in dealing with sponsors' ideas and wishes for their part in the project. I had to adapt bad ideas as well as astoundingly good ideas, and I learned that everyone wants to get in on the design process; whether they are educated in design and art, or not.
I'd set up a basic concept to follow, but as it turned out, many of the sponsors couldn't easily grasp it until we'd finally begun installations and had actual photographs to show. I found that the sponsors wanted more pictorial content than I felt was really useful to the design, and it was often a tricky to steer ideas away from sheer advertising. Without a doubt, the most difficult way to come to good design is by a committee approach.
I worked closely with a local sheet metal company and a tile layer and converted most of my hand drawings to digital formats for metal plasma cutting as well as illustrations produced in printed phenolic resin panels, which were fabricated by Izone Imaging in Texas. The results began to reveal themselves and they were terrific!
By this time, I'd been asked to collaborate with City Parks planners on designs for the other large installations on the Medical Mile. I was really happy and relieved to see the understanding by all involved here, that a unified design concept needs to follow through to all aspects of the project, and I was honored to contribute logo design, sheet metal "decorations', coordinating interpretive panel stands, light fixture designs, tile accents, and even landscape design consultation. I designed the entire "monument" for our primary fundraiser, Heart Clinic Arkansas, in native stone, sheet metals, and a wonderful light fixture that serves as a beacon for all evening trail visitors.
This cohesiveness is what made the Medical Mile project rewarding for me....that, and a wonderful working relationship with our project coordinator. Good design aside, the caring human will is what drives projects like this; the desire to produce something greater than yourself and something for all of us.
It's not a perfect project, by any means. There are some things I'd definitely do differently, but I expect that's the way with ground-breaking projects. Do and Learn. And let Art be one of those forces that lead you further down the trail.
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Updated March 16, 2007